iPhone 6s review roundup: 3D Touch is ‘fun and useful’, Live Photos hit and miss, significant camera upgrade


The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are launching in just four days time and right on schedule the embargo on reviews have been lifted. Apple is touting the new phones as major updates over the 6 and 6 Plus, with 12-megapixel camera and 4K video recording, ‘3D Touch’ pressure-sensitive display to enable quick actions across the OS, Live Photos and more. We’ve already seen an early hands on with the iPhone 6s thanks to an early delivery but now the official tech reviews are live.

So what’s the verdict? We’ve rounded up the highlights below from those lucky enough to get the phones early …

Joanna Stern from the Wall Street Journal loves the new Live Photos feature in the iPhone 6s, a hybrid combination of photos and short videos.

The absolute best thing about the 6s is Live Photos. While capturing a still photo, it also captures a bit of live action. They’re awesome for reliving fun moments, especially of an active puppy or child, and anyone with an iOS 9 iPhone or iPad can view them. But they generally take up two to three times as much space as an iPhone 6 pic because they also save three seconds of video. Sure, you can turn them off, but you won’t want to.

In a dueling interview, the WSJ’s Geoffrey A. Fowler calls iPhone 6s Apple’s ‘best trap yet‘.

The Verge’s Walt Mossberg describes the iPhone 6s as the ‘best phone on the market’ and a surefire upgrade for anyone with an iPhone older than an iPhone 6. He describes 3D Touch as ‘fun and useful’ but notes that right now it is limiting if you aren’t a user of Apple’s apps. It will take time for developers to utilize the power of the additional context that can come from pressure-sensitive interactions.

Apple won’t say exactly how many levels of pressure-sensitivity there are, but it’s definitely so many as to feel almost analog, like the interface is reacting in real time to physical pressure — the homescreen blurs in and out in response to how hard you press on an icon, for instance.

It’s kind of like right click on OS X — the interface is designed to be used without it, but once you realize it’s there, it’s incredibly useful, and you want every app to make solid, consistent use of it. In that sense, 3D Touch won’t really be that useful or revolutionary until third parties really grab on to it.

Buzzfeed’s John Paczkowski describes the 6s as a nice update in terms of speed and camera quality, but again mirrors The Verge in saying that 3D Touch is the ‘transformative’ star of the show with this generation.

But 3D Touch, the most significant of the iPhone 6s’s tentpole features, is. Easily. Built on a system of sensors that detect touch pressure across the face of the iPhone 6s’s display, 3D Touch triggers pop-up menus and previews based on how firmly you press down. Currently, it supports two interactions “peek” and “pop,” with peek calling up a preview of an app or message, or a brief contextual menu, and pop launching the app itself. Each interaction is accompanied by a different tiny vibration that helps you distinguish between them. It is surprisingly useful — particularly for power users who do a lot of work from their iPhones. I’m already using it constantly, and I am impressed with how good it is at interpreting the force of my touch.

In the New York Times, Brian Chen also gave Live Photos high praise, stating that it would capture moments he would otherwise have missed.

You might wonder, why not just shoot a video? The short answer is that there will be tiny moments in life where you would never have guessed you wanted to shoot a video, and now Live Photos has a chance to capture them.

I tried this by photographing my pets. In one instance, I captured a moment when my corgi started digging his paws into dirt on a mountain, showing a side of his personality you wouldn’t witness in a normal photo.

Pocket-Lint notes that Apple will be improving Live Photos in a forthcoming software update. The iOS 9 update will automatically sense the motion of the phone to better crop the video portion of the Live Photo to elements you actually care about seeing again.

Apple tells us that Live Photos will get even better with an upcoming software update that will intelligently sense when you raise or lower the phone, so automatic capture will take place at the pinnacle moment. We can definitely see the need for that, as a lot of Live Photos we’ve shot include the footage of us hastily dropping the camera after taking the shot. Another frustration is that audio is automatically recorded, which at times is lovely – a child’s giggle for example – but not so great when you’ve got the same child screaming in the background.

They also share a NSFVegetarians video shot in 4K on the iPhone 6s.

Ed Baig from USA Today is also a fan of the upgraded 12-megapixel back camera and 5-megapixel front camera. He also notes that the 4K video produced from the new phones is crisp and clear. Like other reviewers, Baig is concerned about the storage space requirements of the 4K video which may make it a lot less useful in reality because of the impracticality of such large files.

 Speaking of selfies, the 6S and 6S Plus turns the front display into a flash by lighting up for a moment three times brighter than usual. That’s pretty clever too.

Meantime, aspiring filmmakers will be jazzed about the ability to shoot 4K video on the phones. The feature is turned off by default since most people still don’t have a way to play back 4K video and such videos gobble up lots of space, roughly 375 MB per minute at the highest resolution. You can edit 4K video on the latest free iMovie app that is available for the phones.

But I expect you to be more than satisfied with the HD videos you shoot, especially on the 6S Plus which gets optical image stabilization to help ensure smooth video. A quibble: I wish you could switch from shooting 4K to HD videos directly in the Camera app, rather than have to dig into the phone’s settings.

YouTuber @MKBHD has also made a nice video overview of the new phones, with some sample camera pictures and a quick look at 3D Touch in action:

For readers concerned about battery life, the reviews agreed with Apple that it was comparable with the battery life seen in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Low Power Mode helps the devices stretch that even further, so you can always get through a day’s worth of usage. If you want the best battery life in an iPhone, like last year, the iPhone 6s Plus is the obvious choice.

In general, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus is a solid upgrade for an ‘S’ year. The cameras and speed improvements are welcomed (including a significantly faster Touch ID sensor) with the possibility for 3D Touch to become a must-have feature when more apps adopt it. The common negative narrative from all these reviews is that the new features require significant storage space, further bemoaning the entry-level 16 GB model. iOS 9 was also praised as a fantastic update in coordination with the new hardware, making the iPhone feel modern and fresh as a whole.

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s officially go on sale this Friday, September 25th. Preorders are sold out worldwide. Full list of reviews (via):

Title Link
Bloomberg iPhone 6S Review: Come for the New Features, Stay for the Screaming Speed – Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-22/iphone-6s-review-come-for-the-new-features-stay-for-the-screaming-speed
Mossberg(The Verge) The iPhone 6S keeps Apple on top in the smartphone race http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/22/9367511/walt-mossberg-reviews-iphone-6s
Mashable The iPhone 6S Plus Our Review http://mashable.com/2015/09/22/apple-iphone-6s-plus-review
TechCrunch Review: Apple’s iPhone 6s And 6s Plus Go ‘Tick’ http://techcrunch.com/2015/09/22/review-apples-iphone-6s-and-6s-plus-go-tick
WSJ iPhone 6s Review: A Slightly Better iPhone 6 http://www.wsj.com/articles/iphone-6s-review-a-slightly-better-iphone-6-1442923203
NYT Testing iPhone 6s’s 3D Touch and Live Photos Features http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/24/technology/personaltech/testing-iphone-6s-3d-touch-and-live-photos-features.html?_r=0
Vouge One week with the iPhone 6s http://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/2015/09/iphone-6s-review-and-features
Pocket-Lint iPhone 6S review: Is 3D Touch worth the upgrade? http://www.pocket-lint.com/review/135252-apple-iphone-6s-review-is-3d-touch-worth-the-upgrade
The Telegraph iPhone 6s review: built for success – The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/iphone/11880699/iPhone-6s-review-built-for-success.html
USA Today iPhone 6S, 6S Plus: 3D Touch, great camera add up to tempting upgrade http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/baig/2015/09/22/iphone-6s-6s-plus-3d-touch-great-camera-add-up-tempting-upgrade/72591074/
The Verge iPhone 6s Review http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/22/9368415/apple-iphone-6s-iphone-6s-plus-review
Digital Spy iPhone 6S review: Apple’s 3D Touch screen and camera improvements make the best better http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tech/review/a669753/iphone-6s-review-apples-3d-touch-screen-and-camera-improvements-make-the-best-better.html
BuzzFeed I Used The Crap Out Of The New iPhone 6s And This Is What Happened http://www.buzzfeed.com/nicolenguyen/iphone-6s-review
BuzzFeed Yet Another iPhone 6s Review http://www.buzzfeed.com/johnpaczkowski/the-iphone-6s-unreview
The Independent iPhone 6s Plus review: more battery, better camera and a bigger screen mean new phone could win you round to huge phones http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/iphone-6s-plus-review-more-battery-better-camera-and-a-bigger-screen-mean-new-phone-could-win-you-10512514.html
Tech Radar iPhone 6S review http://www.techradar.com/reviews/phones/mobile-phones/iphone-6s-1303758/review
Refinery29 Is The New iPhone 6s Worth It? http://www.refinery29.com/2015/09/94357/iphone-6s-review#slide-7
Yahoo Apple’s iPhone 6s: A Spectacular Phone Gets Better https://www.yahoo.com/tech/apple-s-iphone-6s-a-spectacular-1262303423905846.html

Youtube Reviews

Title Link
Bloomberg iPhone 6s Review: Better, But Not How You Think https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ6x7MCvPS8
Mashable 3D Touch on iPhone 6S Feature Review https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObN31XdHIGo
Walt Mossberg reviews the iPhone 6S https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CE-ogCoNAE
TechCrunch iPhone 6S & 6S Plus Review https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ6x7MCvPS8
The Verge iPhone 6S and 6S Plus review https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpQXyELG_CI
The Verge How 3D Touch works on the iPhone 6S https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DkKnwU-NZo
GIGA.DE iPhone 6s – 4K Camera Test Video Sample https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wQHnExGMr0
MKBHD iPhone 6s & 6s Plus Unboxing & First Look! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrmnPFlqG0
CaseyNeistat iPhone 6S Video Test 4k! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9JguCjLrCw

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  1. @dannypwins - 7 years ago

    Kind of tempted to upgrade, but I’ll probably skip this year as my 6 still works fine.

    • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

      “my 6 still works fine”

      What does that have to do with upgrading? :P

      • @dannypwins - 7 years ago

        As in there’s no need for me to upgrade. Didn’t know I had to explain it to you..

      • Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

        To have some of the new features, you have to have a 6S variant. If you have last year’s 6/6+, you don’t have 3D Touch, Live Photos.

      • @dannypwins - 7 years ago

        @pmzanetti didn’t notice your :p so I thought you were trying to be rude. I take that second sentence back. Apologies @richdavis9 I’m aware. I think they’re great features, but I can wait until next year, lol maybe even the year after. Going to be getting married next year, so I’m trying to refrain from unnecessary purchases. Hope you 2 enjoy it if you get it.

  2. theplotlessplot - 7 years ago

    Going from the 16GB 5C to the 64GB 6S Plus, hopefully. Can’t wait!

    • jacosta45 - 7 years ago

      Wow. You’ll definitely notice a big improvement in your experience.

    • Jason Boyce - 7 years ago

      Great choice! I upgraded from a 5S to a 6 Plus last year and once you use the Plus model that 5C will feel so tiny you’ll wonder how you used it for so long. The battery life on the Plus model is a beast in comparison as well. Hope you enjoy it once you get it

      • Mhamad Tarek - 7 years ago

        How did you adapt to the screen size difference? I really want to take that step to 6s, but i’m afraid I won’t like the 4.7″ of that thinner design! What do you think, should I stay with 5s or go to 6s and the bigger screen?

  3. PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

    The fool who wrote the review on WSJ ought to be….well, not write reviews anymore. “Battery could be better” “Live Photos records a short video” and more of that. Utter useless writing.

  4. RP - 7 years ago

    I really like Joanna Stern.
    Her and David Pierce from Wired.

  5. David - 7 years ago

    Anyone else notice its $100 to upgrade between capacities on an iPhone but $50 on an Apple TV? And the base model of an Apple TV (which isn’t also primarily a camera with 4k and video pictures) starts at 32gb?

  6. Gary Dauphin - 7 years ago

    Gotta upgrade for the camera. dammit. :)

  7. Russ Piechocinski - 7 years ago

    Going from an iphone 5. I’ve never felt more excited to be so antiquated

  8. Craig Kocher - 7 years ago

    FYI… Mossberg doesnt work for The Verge. You might want to change that.

  9. The verge’s Walt Mossberg???? when did this happen?

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      I thought the same thing; sad day for everyone when Mossberg works for the Verge…lol.

  10. Ali Hamodi - 7 years ago

    Battery life is the reason #1 that made me switch to galaxy note 5. I still prefer iPhones but apple is not improving their devices any more. WHy note stylus exist? Why care so much about a thinner devices! I want more battery juice. Why note 5 has 4 times the resolution of IPhone! Get the Amoled screen from samsung because LCD looks garbage compared to the amoled screen. WHY 16GB still exist!!!! This is a real fk u to costumers. Its is really frustrating. IOS is much smoother that android and I like it a lot but Apple needs to consider reducing their greediness criteria and give people what they want.

    • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

      LOL! Thanks for the laugh, maniac.

      – 16 GB still exists because it means an extra $2-3/device for Apple. And its existence has zero negative impact on sales whatsoever.
      – Saying the iPhone display looks like “garbage” compared to _insert generic amoled screen_ is probably the dumbest thing something could say.
      – Battery life is a joke on Android phones when you actually turn on features. iPhones make it through the day for most people with normal usage. That’s all they have to do. Battery life needs to be no better or worse than that.

      Any more bullshit points you want to try to make that don’t stand up to reality?

      • Ali Hamodi - 7 years ago

        Are you serious!

      • Ali Hamodi - 7 years ago

        Battery life with note 5 is much better than my iPhone 6 plus. and I care about battery life. I put my note 5 next to 6 plus and see that note 5 screen is much better than iPhone screen. Finally, are you seriously defending the 16 gb model!!!!!!!!!!

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        To be perfectly honest, Apple could sell an 8GB iPhone and people would probably still buy it, and it wouldn’t have any negative impact on sales; that doesn’t make it right. Flash storage is insanely cheap, it makes no sense to sell the AppleTV with 32GB and the iPhone with 16GB…or put a god damned MicroSD slot on it, let people only use it for photos and videos — that fixes the problem right there.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      This guy wants a stylus that inserts into the device. That’s all you need to know to discount any of his opinions.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Who wants a stylus? Yuck! If you see a stylus or a task manager, they blew it!

    • Max Mars (@devianter) - 7 years ago

      my 6 plus battery life goes for 10h usage and 24h stand-by. why would you ever need more than 10 hours usage? i already charge it once in 2 days. it’s crazy good.

    • Atlas (@Metascover) - 7 years ago

      The note 5 has 30% more pixels than the iPhone not 4. It’s funny that all you idiots keep repeating that even though it’s false.

  11. I’m returning to Apple for all my hardware needs. After a fun spell with a Nexus 5, which at the end of my 2 year contract the battery is on its way out, was never the greatest, and the speaker has failed, but it was not too bad as a daily workhorse. I waited for the 6s as I knew 3D Touch could be a game changer, and it’s looking that way, especially as other apps catch up. My only problem is I’ll have to wait until around October 9th for my 6s Plus to arrive :-)

  12. Atlas (@Metascover) - 7 years ago

    Not watching videos made by that idiot MKBHD!

  13. Joost (@Syncmas12) - 7 years ago

    Haha, Siri was responding to the USA Today video when he said “Hey Siri”.

  14. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Hoooly….that 4K video with the butcher shop is awesome! That looks like it was pro shot almost!!! Damn I wish I could upgrade…I still have an unlimited data plan from Verizon, heh, I have to pay full price for the phone if I want to upgrade. I’d probably have to get the 128GB one as well since all those videos and higher resolution pics would eat 16GB for lunch. Bah, I wish they would just add a MicroSD card slot; 128GB of MicroSD storage is only around 50 bucks last time I checked.


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Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.